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Hundreds of Qatar University students and community members have been debating gender segregation in school and society this week.

The discussion was sparked by a woman who was recently elected to the student union of QU’s College of Sharia and Islamic Studies, but then objected about the meetings being mixed.

Last month, Mariam Al-Dosari began complaining that the union was not accommodating her request to attend the meetings via video conference, so that she wouldn’t have to meet with male students face-to-face.

Translation: It is really strange that the student council meetings are gender-mixed as it contradicts Qatar University’s segregation policy in classes.

A few weeks later, in early March, Al-Dosari began complaining that her requests were not being met.

Hashtag debate

This led to the creation of a now-viral hashtag on Twitter, كلنا_مريم_الدوسري# (We are all Mariam Al-Dosari).

Many people who engaged in the debate said they sympathized with Al-Dosari’s plight, saying her request should have been honored.

Others saw the issue as an attempt to westernize Qatar in a way that goes against the country’s traditions and values.

Translation: I pity those who reduce this issue to make it only about Mariam. It simply isn’t. It’s a matter of principle; an issue pertaining to the chaste women of Qatar and the values virtue and modesty they were brought up with. Sooner or later the truth will prevail.

Translation: She lives in her home country and has a right to an education that suits her traditions and values.

Translation: Instead of teaching students freedom of expression and democracy a student is being punished by being expelled from the student council and then to add insult to injury, she gets yelled at as if expulsion isn’t enough.

Counterpoints

But many others said it was unreasonable to always expect things to be segregated by gender.

Some critics pointed out that Al-Dosari knew the format of the meetings before she became a representative.

And a few said students are capable of meeting each other in mixed company without anything untoward happening.

Translation: What kind of empowerment and enablement are you searching for and wishing to achieve in the future when you already refuse to attend official public meetings?

Translation: The seatings at the meetings are divided, the front rows are for female students and the back ones for males or the other way around. They don’t even sit next to each other.

Qatar University has not officially weighed in on the discussion, nor has the student union.

On Twitter, some have suggested that Al-Dosari is no longer on the student council, but she has not confirmed this.

A better future

For some, the debate raises a larger question about men and women’s interaction in society.

In an opinion piece this week, QU alum Shabeb Al Rumaihi pointed out that many of his university’s annual events, conferences and movie screenings were not segregated affairs.

Qatar University

Qatar University

“You can not bring a head of state or an international actor to give two separate lectures,” he said.

He added that he didn’t feel mixed events threatened Qatar’s cultural values, and that this helps facilitate female leadership.

“I see it as an opportunity to innovate a new cultural platform that believes in developing a society that needs men and women working together to develop a better future for Qatar.”

He concluded by pointing that during his undergraduate years, there were three female college deans at QU. Now, there’s only one.

Thoughts?

 Qatar University campus

Qatar University

Qatar University campus

Faculty members and staff at Qatar University must now use Arabic during meetings and in work-related emails and letters, the institution’s president has announced.

In a short, bilingual statement on Wednesday to all staff members, Dr. Hassan Al Derham said that the decision would be effective immediately.

He explained:

 

“As the Arabic language is the official language of the State of Qatar, please note that all meetings, minutes of meetings and correspondence (paper and electronic) must be in Arabic.

Colleges/Departments that teach in English may be exempted from this directive, other than that, the official discourse language must be in Arabic at QU. Please note that the University will provide translation to those who do not understand Arabic.”

The move will likely mean a significant change for many staff who are used to communicating in at least some English.

Exemptions

However, it only applies to colleges or departments that currently teach their programs in Arabic.

Others whose main language of instruction is English, including the colleges of engineering, pharmacy and medicine, will not be affected, a QU spokesperson confirmed to Doha News.

Science programs at the university’s College of Arts and Sciences are also conducted in English.

In a tweet about the decision last week, Al Derham said:

Translation: To show pride in our identity and in adherence with the State’s instructions, we have emphasized today the necessity of making Arabic the official language in all meetings, lectures and correspondences at Qatar University.

The university did not say how it will enforce this rule, or what penalty would be imposed, if any, on someone who doesn’t follow it.

‘Commendable’

The decision was resoundingly supported by commenters on Twitter, who described it as “commendable” and “laudable.”

Translation: This is a commendable step. We look forward to having this decision include course registration and all other electronic services so that the Arabic language becomes the main option and not an alternative to English.

Translation: A laudable decision and we hope to see it implemented at all institutions and companies in Qatar.

Some said it was overdue, given that Qatar’s constitution designates Arabic as the language of the state.

Translation: We’ve been awaiting this decision for ages. Thankfully, it’s finally a reality. We pray to God to come to your aid (President of QU) in order to enforce our identity and religion and have them reflected in all aspects at university.

Meanwhile, others called for the university to go further by mandating its graduate programs be taught in Arabic, as opposed to English.

Translation: What’s even more important is for Arabic to be the main language in studying for masters and doctorates so that students are equipped to help their compatriots in a meaningful way through their mother-tongue. Hopefully, there will also be an increase in the number of Arabic studies and resource texts at the university’s library.

Translation: What about the scientific courses at the faculty of education? Why can’t they be taught in Arabic? We hope that you would look into this too.

Draft law

QU did not comment further on the decision or officially explain why it has been introduced.

Nor has it said what, if anything, will happen to its English-speaking staff and faculty in the affected colleges.

However, earlier this year, Qatar’s Cabinet approved a draft law that would require all ministries, official organizations and public schools and universities to use Arabic in all their communications.

Photo for illustrative purposes only

Katara.net

Photo for illustrative purposes only

At the time, QNA reported that the move would affect all ministries, official institutions, municipalities and public educational institutions at all levels of education.

This likely includes all government-run kindergartens, schools and universities.

The draft legislation would require these organizations to use Arabic for instruction, documents, contracts, transactions, correspondence, labels, programs, publications, advertisements and “all that comes out of their systems,” the news agency said at the time.

Changing university

QU used to teach many of its arts and humanities subjects in English.

However, in early 2012, the then-Supreme Education Council ordered that classes in law, international affairs, media and business administration be taught in Arabic instead.

This latest decision also comes amid an ongoing push for Arabic to be more widely used in daily discourse in Qatar.

Sheikha Moza

UN Geneva/Flickr

Sheikha Moza

There are concerns that many younger people in the country do not have a strong enough grasp of Modern Standard Arabic (fus’ha).

Qatar Foundation chairperson Sheikha Moza bint Nasser has repeatedly raised this issue, as she equated a loss of language to the erosion of cultural identity.

Thoughts?

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Qatar residents in need of legal advice can now get help from a free law clinic at Qatar University (QU).

The Law Clinic was established by QU’s College of Law in 2012, but lawyers only began working there pro bono a few months ago.

Since February, the clinic has received and helped resolve cases involving labor, child custody, marriage and divorce.

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eDmonD uchiha/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

It especially aims to help women, children, the elderly, those with disabilities and victims of human trafficking.

Speaking to Doha News, the director said the clinic came about because the school wanted students and lawyers to practice law differently.

“While it is important for any lawyer to make profit out of the profession, it is also important to do good (for) the community by getting to know the Qatari society and helping its members,” said Dr. Mohamed Mattar, who is also a QU clinical law professor.

How it works

According to Mattar, the law clinic prioritizes cases in which people are unable to afford a lawyer. But clients are not required to submit any documents to prove their need.

“It is important to facilitate access to justice, without having to present such documents, because we already trust our clients,” he said, adding:

“So if someone is out of work, that’s enough, and if there’s a woman whose husband has not paid her alimony, then that’s proof for us that she can’t afford a lawyer.”

After accepting a case, the clinic assigns a lawyer to the case to determine a legal strategy. The lawyer may decide the matter needs to be taken to court, for example.

Pro bono help

If this happens, cases are referred to pro bono lawyers from law firms affiliated with the clinic. One of these is Al Sulaiti Law Firm.

According to Mattar, the Law Clinic has ties to many lawyers and firms in Qatar. Lots have expressed interest in offering their expertise and services for free, he added.

Additionally, QU law professors and law students contribute their efforts to the clinic. Some 10 students interviewed clients and reviewed cases last semester.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Theryn Fleming/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“It is a great thing to have such an environment for a law student, (and) it’s important to help people here in Qatar know that such a service exists,” law student Dana Ahen told Doha News.

Law students can also enroll in the clinic as an academic course, to learn how to work with real law cases on the ground.

And in Qatar, unlike some other nations, law students do have some authority to practice the law to a lesser extent.

“It is important to study the justice system and Qatari law, but it is more important for the students to be able to draft memorandums, write contracts, interview clients and legally represent them,” Mattar said.

The clinic is available around the clock, and clients can email Mattar at [email protected] or call 4403 7786 for legal help.

Thoughts?